SALISBURY — Mainline Protestantism in the United States has reached a fork in the road from the post-World War II era to today. The choice: grow or die.
But mainline churches won't grow if they stay where and how they are.
So says Dr. Will Willimon, former dean of the chapel at Duke University and now a bishop in the United Methodist Church in North Alabama.
It's not that people are leaving mainline churches to join these other [Pentecostal and Assembly] churches. Instead, they typically drop out of church-going altogether, Willimon said. "Mainline Protestantism was the last stop."
Why? Mainline churches "had unknowingly given people a theology of godlessness," Willimon said. "We adjusted so much to the culture that the line between church and Rotary seemed rather thin."
"The mainline is going to continue to be sidelined."
Mainline churches became unintentionally exclusionary, he said, by sticking to the same music and worship services and meeting structure. Even contemporary services — which Willimon called a "phase" — rely on music that is 20 years old.
But at least those services show a desire to adapt-- not to please those who are present each Sunday, but rather to take a risk to reach those who are not in church.
"We're trying to adapt to the world," Willimon said. Now it's time to tell the world, "this is what we believe."